Preeclampsia : Toxemia

Preeclampsia is a condition that occurs only during pregnancy. Diagnoses is made by the combination of high blood pressure and protein in the urine, occurring after week 20 of pregnancy. Preeclampsia may also be called toxemia and is often precluded by gestational hypertension. Preeclampsia affects about 2-6% of healthy, first time moms.

Who is at risk for preeclampsia?

The following may increase the risk of developing preeclampsia:

  • A first-time mom
  • Previous experience with gestational hypertension or preeclampsia
  • Women whose sisters and mothers had preeclampsia
  • Women carrying multiple babies
  • Women younger than 20 years and older than age 40
  • Women who had high blood pressure or kidney disease prior to pregnancy
  • Women who are obese or have a BMI of 30 or greater

What are the symptoms of preeclampsia?

Mild preeclampsia: high blood pressure, water retention, and protein in the urine.

Severe preeclampsia: headaches, blurred vision, inability to tolerate bright light, fatigue, nausea/vomiting, urinating small amounts, pain in the upper right abdomen, shortness of breath, and tendency to bruise easily. Contact your doctor immediately if you experience blurred vision, severe headaches, abdominal pain, and/or urinating very infrequently .

How do I know if I have preeclampsia?

At each prenatal checkup your healthcare provider will check your blood pressure, urine levels, and may order blood tests which may show if you have preeclampsia.

Your physician may also perform other tests that include: checking kidney and blood-clotting functions; ultrasound scan to check your baby’s growth; and Doppler scan to measure the efficiency of blood flow to the placenta.

How is preeclampsia treated?

Treatment depends on how close you are to your due date. If you are close to your due date, and the baby is developed enough, your health care provider will probably want to deliver your baby as soon as possible.

If you have mild preeclampsia and your baby has not reached full development, your doctor will probably recommend you do the following:

  • Rest, lying on your left side to take the weight of the baby off your major blood vessels.
  • Increase prenatal checkups.
  • Consume less salt
  • Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day
  • Change your diet to include more protein

If you have severe preeclampsia, your doctor may try to treat you with blood pressure medication until you are far enough along to deliver safely, along with possibly bed rest, dietary changes and supplements.

How can preeclampsia affect the mother?

If preeclampisa is not treated quickly and properly, it can lead to serious complications for the mother such as liver or renal failure, future cardiovascular issues and two other conditions directly related to preecplamsia that can be life threatening.

  • Eclampsia- Eclampsia is a severe form of preeclampsia that leads to seizures in the mother.
  • HELLP Syndrome ( hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes, and low platelet count) - A condition usually occurring late in pregnancy that affects the breakdown of red blood cells, how the blood clots, and liver function for the pregnant woman.

How does preeclampsia affect my baby?

Preeclampsia can prevent the placenta from getting enough blood. If the placenta doesn’t get enough blood, your baby gets less oxygen and food. This can result in low birth weight.

Most women still can deliver a healthy baby if preeclampsia is detected early and treated with regular prenatal care.

How can I prevent preeclampsia:

Currently, there is no sure way to prevent preeclampsia. Some contributing factors to high blood pressure can be controlled and some can’t. Follow your doctor’s instruction about diet and exercise.

  • Use little or no added salt in your meals.
  • Drink 6-8 glasses of water a day.
  • Don’t eat a lot of fried foods and junk food.
  • Get enough rest
  • Exercise regularly
  • Elevate your feet several times during the day.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol.
  • Avoid beverages containing caffeine.
  • Your doctor may suggest you take prescribed medicine and additional supplements.
Last Updated: 01/2012

Compiled using information from the following sources:

Mayo Clinic, http://www.mayoclinic.com

Medscape; Hypertension and Pregnancy, http://www.emedicine.medscape.com

Preeclampsia Foundation, http://www.preeclampsia.org/index.asp